Or, “because Wolverine, that’s why,” if we’re talking about the Marvel universe.
This ranting has been spawned by a pleasant series of comments from a reader (hello Lunar Archivist!) who knows much more about the DC Universe than I do, and helps shore up my gaps in knowledge. This also ties in with my rants about soft retcons and origin stories.
To the point – there has been a trend in comics, especially since the gritty ’90s, to give all characters old and new the same kind of backstory. And that backstory must be, in a word, “dark.” The Dark Age of Comics had its place, and dark characters have their place, but as I have said before, Darkier and Edgier just does not work for everyone. Batman’s origin was always dark and that’s fine. Wolverine’s origin was always shrouded in mystery and dark too and that’s fine. It works for Batman and Wolverine. But because those two characters are the poster children for Writer’s Favorite, apparently someone got the idea that if other characters were more like Batman and Wolverine, they would be more appealing to the reading audience (and thus sell more comics).
I hear you say, “That’s astoundingly cynical.” Then again…Once upon a time, Barry Allen wanted to help people so he went into forensic science and joined the police department. He had a healthy family life with two living parents! He was also a fan of Jay Garrick, the Justice Society of America’s Flash. And one day, there was an accident and Barry Allen became the new Flash. He was literally an ascended fanboy, and that’s pretty cool. But when it was decided after a long period of absence that Barry Allen would be the definitive new Flash in the New 52, that kind of origin just wouldn’t do. So instead his nemesis is responsible for the death of his mother and his father is framed for the murder. And instead of going into law enforcement out of a genuine desire to help people, he becomes a superhero to save his father, which he fails to do as his father dies in prison leaving him guilt-stricken for the rest of his life over his failure to save his parents. That sounds suspiciously Batman-esque to me.
What was wrong with the ascended fanboy origin? What was wrong with keeping Wally West as Flash when Barry Allen had died in 1985 and so there’s a whole generation of readers who’ve just been told their Flash is not the real Flash?
I’d better stop there or I’ll rant on DC in general.
I like the idea of an ascended fanboy. In a universe so full of superheroes, is it any wonder so many people would want to be superheroes themselves? Aren’t superheroes supposed to be an inspiration? Shouldn’t people seek to emulate them to the best of their abilities? A dark and tortured past is just unnecessary. In fact, a major part of Superman’s backstory (unless that changed again) is that he had a normal, happy, and stable childhood (except for the destruction of his planet). The Kents took in the little alien and raised him on down-home, good-old fashioned farm-livin’ and it worked out great. That upbringing is part of keeps Superman from just saying, “Screw this, I’m taking over now,” and doing so.
Comics must have drama. Origin stories provide drama. But not everyone has to start out such a tortured soul. The life of a superhero is going to bring about nothing but pain and misery. The most happy-go-lucky superhero is probably going to face unimaginable terror and hopeless odds. We all know how the future is going to go, so why not give them a break and let them have a normal past? Why not even use that past as a source of strength instead yet another notch on the superhero’s angst belt? To quote Lunar Archivist – “I’m just at a complete loss to understand why DC has this need to have every hero’s origin and existence built upon the corpses of their families and friends and have everyone behave like a complete dick or douchebag.”
DC: Because Batman! That’s why!
Lunar Archivist – “Seriously, are nice people that repulsive or difficult to associate within this day and age?”
To the editors of Marvel and DC – please, please, please stop this. Please. I love Batman and Wolverine as much as the next fan, but I am so tired of new characters that are little more than cheap knock-offs or everyone getting the Darkier and Edgier treatment just because it works so well on Batman/Wolverine. Frankly so much Dark and Edgy makes me a little tired of Batman/Wolverine. There’s nothing wrong with a superhero with a normal past. Superheroes with normal pasts are actually relatable. Superheroes that are not Dark and Edgy are acceptable. Seriously. Please stop making everyone and everything Batman/Wolverine.